Comparing the ideologies of the PKS and Malaysia’s PAS

by Ahmad Ali Nurdin, Bandung*)

To compare two Islamic political parties in Southeast Asia, the PKS (Indonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party), and PAS (Malaysia’s Pan Islamic Party), is interesting. Several reasons can be put forward to justify such a comparison.

First, unlike radical groups that try to enforce Islamic law on the streets, both the PKS and PAS use the constitutional process and follow democracy’s rules of the game by establishing Islamic political parties.

Second, the PKS and PAS have played significant roles in bringing about political change in both Indonesia and Malaysia. Although the PKS is a new party in Indonesia, many describe it as the most solid in Indonesia and as having a clean and well-organized image.

The newly established party gained only 1.4 percent of the vote and 7 seats in the House of Representatives in the 1999 general election (at that time it was still called the Justice Party). After it changed its name (as required by the legislation as it failed to win a minimum 2.5 percent of the vote) to the PKS, it won 7.3 percent of the votes and 45 seats in the House.

Meanwhile, PAS, an opposition party in Malaysia since its establishment in 1951, is powerful in Kelantan and Trengganu states. In the 1999 elections, PAS won state-level control of both Kelantan and Trengganu. However, it suffered from embarrassing losses in the 2004 election because of the popularity of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Third, both the PKS and PAS are widely believed to be identical as Islamic parties that have an Islamic agenda as their objectives. However, are these parties’ programs, strategies and their responses to Islam and the state all that similar?
From the historical perspective, one can argue that both parties have been influenced by Islamic movements in the Middle East, especially Egypt, as well as Pakistan. The ideological influence of the Ikhwanul Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) movement led by Hasan al-Banna in Egypt can easily be found in both parties’ strategies, programs and pronouncements.

For al-Banna, the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim world’s decline was symbolized by its acceptance of Western forms of government. Thus, he believed that Muslims should return to Islamic values. Returning to Islam implied the establishment of an Islamic state, according to al-Banna.

The tarbiyah (education) movement model, a cornerstone of the PKS, has been clearly influenced by the methods the Muslim Brotherhood used to recruit its members. According to al-Banna, the basic unit of his organization is the cell or “”family””. The main role of each family unit is tarbiyah (education) and dakwa (propagation). This tarbiyah model, popular among Muslim students in leading universities in Indonesia during the 1990s, has been adopted by the PKS to recruit its members.

The influence of Middle Eastern ideology is also found in the PAS. According to Safie Ibrahim in his book The Islamic Party of Malaysia: Its Formative Stages and Ideology (1981:74), PAS ideology has been heavily influenced by the Jamaati-Islami movement in Pakistan and the Ikhwanul Muslimin movement in Egypt.
However, although both the PKS and PAS share similar ideologies imported from the Brotherhood movement, they also have significant differences, particularly as regards their views on the Islamic state.

PAS positions itself as an opposition party and has often been oppressed by the government. Meanwhile, the PKS was established soon after the fall of Soeharto in 1998, which means that as a party it never experienced Soeharto’s iron fist.
Looking at the current political platforms and objectives of the two parties, it is clear enough that they have different orientations as regards the relationship between Islam and the state.

On the one hand, PAS since its establishment has stated that establishing an Islamic state is its main objective. In Kelantan, we can see how Islamic law has been being enacted at the state level.

The PKS, on the other hand, has never clearly stated so far that its final objective is the establishment of an Indonesian Islamic State.

Thus, it is understandable that in the last two elections (1999 and 2004), as pointed out by Greg Fealy and Anthony Bubalo in their work Joining the Caravan?: The Middle East, Islamism and Indonesia (2005:70), the PKS has emphasized the “”secular”” themes of fighting corruption, socioeconomic equality and the need for continued political reform instead of Islamic state issues.
However, this is not to say that PKS leaders have abandoned their earlier commitment to Islamist causes.

The question therefore arises: why do the PKS and PAS apparently have different orientations when both of them are strongly influenced by the Ikhwanul Muslimin movement, which clearly states that fighting for the establishment of the Islamic state is compulsory? It could be argued that it is the real socio-political situations prevailing in Indonesia and Malaysia respectively that lead to these different orientations.

As an established opposition party in a federal system, it is easier for PAS to fight for it objectives at the state level. If PAS becomes a successful ruling party at the state level, it will be easier for it to try to implement its concept of an Islamic state.

The PKS, on the other hand, is still struggling in Indonesia, which is a unitary rather than a federal state. Indonesia also has a presidential system. That is why the PKS is hesitant to proclaim itself an opposition party or to say that the establishment of an Islamic state is its main objective. We do not know what would happen if the PKS become the ruling party — would an Indonesian Islamic state be its main goal?

Finally, it would be interesting if the parties were to hold discussions and share information on their respective ideologies and manifestos. Would it be possible for the PAS to follow and adopt the PKS strategy of attracting Muslim voters in Malaysia by emphasizing more secular issues? Or, conversely, could the PKS learn from the PAS experience in Kelantan and make itself even more acceptable to Indonesian Muslims (particularly hard-line Muslims), by proposing an Islamic State as its main objective?
*) The writer is a lecturer in the School of Theology at the Sunan Gundung Djati State Islamic University, Bandung.

Sumber: Jakarta Post  11/28/2005


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